Niepoort Dry White Porto

True Ports (now often referred to as Portos) hail from the Douro valley in northern Portugal, and have done so for over three hundred years. The region’s predominant soil is schist, composed of various medium-grained to coarse-grained metamorphic rocks with laminated, often flaky parallel layers of micaceous minerals.  The low annual rainfall makes this probably one of the driest regions of the world where grapes are grown without irrigation. This terroir results in very low-yielding vineyards, with vines bearing only a very few small bunches of full-flavored grapes whose thick skins protect them from dehydration.

Port is a fortified wine. Fortification is the addition of brandy (usually) or a neutral spirit to wine in order to boost the alcohol content. Fortified wines are often sweet, because the alcohol kills the yeast before fermentation completely runs its course, leaving residual sugar. This accounts for Port’s characteristic rich, luscious style and also contributes to the wine’s considerable ageing potential. Fortification also stabilizes the wine, a definite benefit for a product destined for the long sea voyage from Portugal to England, the first large market for it.

There are four basic categories of Port: vintage, tawny, ruby, and white.  Vintage Ports are the rarest (just one to three percent of all Port production), the best quality, and the most expensive, of course.  They are made from grapes of a single vintage and bottled within two years of harvest.  In order to maintain the highest quality standards, vintage Ports are only made in the best years, which are “declared.” These wines can age extremely well; there is an old English tradition where a vintage Port is purchased on a child’s birth year, and consumed to celebrate when he or she turns 21.  (Late Bottled Vintage Port is bottled at either four or six years old; although they have been aged longer, these Ports are often of second-tier quality when compared to a producer’s Vintage offerings.) Tawny Ports are a blend of fruit from many different years, and can be wood-aged for as many as 40 years.  A high-quality tawny Port will always list the barrel age on the label.  The characteristic amber color is the result of this wood aging.  Ruby Ports are made from wines not deemed worthy of vintage classification, and are aged in wood for about two years.  These youthful, fruity Ports are often the least expensive.  White Ports are made like other Ports, just using white grapes.  Although they have been made for as long as red Ports, they are much less familiar to Port drinkers.  Indeed, I’ve been consuming Port for decades, but this is the first white I have tried.  (These white wines run the gamut from sweet to dry, and are usually consumed as an aperitif.

The Douro

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Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny Port

True Ports hail from the Douro valley in Northern Portugal, and have done so for over three hundred years. The region’s predominant soil is schist, composed of various medium-grained to coarse-grained metamorphic rocks with laminated, often flaky parallel layers of micaceous minerals.  The low annual rainfall makes this probably one of the driest regions of the world where grapes are grown without irrigation. This terroir results in very low-yielding vineyards, with vines bearing only a very few small bunches of full-flavored grapes whose thick skins protect them from dehydration.

To make Port, a neutral grape alcohol is added to the wine partway through fermentation.  This stops the fermentation before the yeast has eaten all of the sugars, leaving a natural residual sugar of 9 to 10 percent, and boosting the alcohol content to 18 to 20 percent.  This was originally done in the early days of Port production to stabilize the wines for the long sea voyage to England, at one time the biggest market for Port.  There are four basic categories: vintage, tawny, ruby, and white.  Vintage Ports are of the best quality, and the most expensive, of course.  They are made from grapes of a single vintage and bottled within two years.  In order to maintain the highest quality standards, vintage Ports are only made in the best years, which are “declared.” These wines can age extremely well; there is an old English tradition where a vintage Port is purchased on a child’s birth year, and consumed to celebrate when he or she turns 21.  Tawny Ports are a blend of fruit from many different years, and can be wood-aged for as many as 40 years.  A high-quality tawny Port will always list the barrel age on the label.  The characteristic amber color is the result of this wood aging.  Ruby Ports are made from wines not deemed worthy of vintage classification, and are aged in wood for about two years.  These youthful, fruity Ports are often the least expensive.  White Ports are made like other Ports, just using white grapes.  These wines run the gamut from sweet to dry, and are usually consumed as an aperitif. Continue reading “Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny Port”

Dow’s Late Bottled Vintage Port 2016

True Ports hail from the Douro valley in northern Portugal, and have done so for over three hundred years. The region’s predominant soil is schist, composed of various medium-grained to coarse-grained metamorphic rocks with laminated, often flaky parallel layers of micaceous minerals.  The low annual rainfall makes this probably one of the driest regions of the world where grapes are grown without irrigation. This terroir results in very low-yielding vineyards, with vines bearing only a very few small bunches of full-flavored grapes whose thick skins protect them from dehydration.

Port is a fortified wine. Fortification is the addition of brandy or a neutral spirit to wine in order to boost the alcohol content. Fortified wines are often sweet, because the alcohol kills the yeast before fermentation completely runs its course, leaving residual sugar. This accounts for Port’s characteristic rich, luscious style and also contributes to the wine’s considerable ageing potential. Fortification also stabilizes the wine, a definite benefit for a product destined for the long sea voyage from Portugal to England, the first large market for it.

In 1798 Bruno da Silva, a Portuguese merchant from Oporto, traveled to London, where he imported wine from his native country, reversing the route of English traders to Portugal. He married an Englishwoman, was rapidly assimilated into London society, and built a reputation for his wines. When the outbreak of the Napoleonic wars in 1803 put his business in jeopardy, da Silva applied for ‘Letters of Marque’ (a Royal Assent to equip a merchant ship with guns) to secure safe passage of his Port from Oporto to England. His became the only Port company to transport its wines in its own armed fleet, a distinct competitive advantage. Continue reading “Dow’s Late Bottled Vintage Port 2016”

Cockburn’s No. 1 Special Reserve Port

True Ports hail from the Douro valley in Northern Portugal, and have done so for over three hundred years. The region’s predominant soil is schist, composed of various medium-grained to coarse-grained metamorphic rocks with laminated, often flaky parallel layers of micaceous minerals.  The low annual rainfall makes this probably one of the driest regions of the world where grapes are grown without irrigation. This terroir results in very low-yielding vineyards, with vines bearing only a very few small bunches of full-flavored grapes whose thick skins protect them from dehydration.

Cockburn’s (CO-burns, not COCK-burns) is perhaps the best-known name in Port, thanks to Cockburn’s Special Reserve.  Certainly, in the first half of the last century Cockburn vintage ports were widely regarded as the finest in the world.

Robert Cockburn was a Scottish soldier who served in Portugal during the Peninsular War, and thereby was exposed to Port wines. In 1815, Robert and his brother John, who originally were wine merchants in Leith, Scotland, decided to get into the Port business. Looking for better fruit than what was available at the traditional merchant’s fair in Porto, they ventured up the Douro river and bought the  best grapes they could find directly from farmers there. Over time, the Cockburns were joined by the Wauchope, Smithes, Teage, and Cobb families as partners. Together, they built a reputation for fine Vintage Port.  For most of the 20th century, Cockburn’s was the name in Port — famous (some would say infamous) for deferring on vintages that others declared, and fetching prices 10 to 15% above the going rate of their Oporto competitors.

Cockburn’s was one of the first companies to plant vineyards in the remote Douro Superior,  a region once considered out of bounds for respectable producers, but which became known as Cockburn’s Country.  It was also instrumental in resurrecting the now iconic Touriga Nacional grape variety from obscurity, largely due to the efforts of John Henry Smithes, Cockburn’s winemaker and the “Cowboy of the Douro.”

The Cockburn and Smithes families sold the business in 1963 to Showerings of England, producers of Babycham (a low-alcohol sparking cider made from fermented pear juice), who had at about the same time taken over Harveys of Bristol. Showerings decided they needed a Port to complement the branded Sherry that was then their cash cow, Harveys Bristol Cream. Christened “Special Reserve,” it revolutionized the Port trade in 1969, creating a whole new category between Ruby Port and Vintage Port.  (It is more substantial than a Ruby, but less so than a Vintage.)

The brand has a tradition of humorous marketing, with many people still remembering the iconic print and TV ads from the ’70s and ’80s. That same spirit continues today, reflected in recent “Pronounce Responsibly” advertising.

Over time, the Cockburn’s portfolio passed through a number of owners. At some point, Showerings became part of Allied Domecq until that operation was taken over by Pernod Ricard in 2005, who promptly sold Cockburn’s and some other brands to the Fortune Brands holding company, the parent company of Beam Global, the company best known for its bourbon. Predictably, Beam’s knowledge of and interest in fortified wines was minimal at best, so Beam quickly (and wisely) contracted the winemaking itself to the Symington family, already responsible for Dow, Graham, and Warre Ports, in 2006. In 2010, the Symingtons purchased Cockburn’s outright, acquiring the brand, the lodge (aka winery), the inventory, the vineyards, and Martinez, a port shipper that Showering had acquired before Cockburn. The Symingtons conducted an intensive overhaul of all of Cockburn’s viticulture and winemaking practices, with the goal of restoring Cockburn’s reputation and quality.

In addition to their Port holdings, Symington owns several brands of Madeira and Douro DOC wines. With their extensive vineyard holdings and many Port brands, the Symingtons are often described as ruling over a “Port empire.”

The Douro

In 2016 the Portuguese Minister for Tourism opened the new visitor center at the Cockburn’s Port Cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia, Porto. The cellars contain the most extensive collection of oak barrels in the Port trade. It is also the site of the last in-house cooperage in Portugal, where a skilled team of craftsmen carefully maintain and repair thousands of ancient casks.

Cockburn’s owns two important vineyards in the Upper Douro Valley, the world’s oldest demarcated wine region and a UNESCO-protected landscape. Both are in the rugged, remote Douro Superior, some 87 miles [140 kilometers] upriver from the city of Porto, a region with hot and dry climatic conditions. Quinta [estate] dos Canais is one of the major Douro properties, with a total area of 672 acres [272 hectares], of which close to 247 are under vine. Just five miles [eight kilometers] further upstream is the Quinta do Vale Coelho, a small 47-acre [19-hectare] property, of which two-thirds are planted to vines. Both quintas are situated on the north bank of the Douro river, and the vineyards are mostly south-facing, ideal for the ripening of  grapes.

Cockburn’s Special Reserve Port

Special Reserve was created by blending fruit from vineyards in the Douro Superior, maturing it for up to five years in oak casks, and bottling the wine ready to drink. It rapidly became the world’s best-selling Port. Its breakthrough success was evident in how other Port houses followed suit (Fronseca’s Bin 27, Warre’s Warrior, Graham’s Six Grapes, and Sandeman’s Founder’s Reserve for instance).

This dark opaque purple wine has a surprisingly delicate nose of sweet plum.  It is much more lively in the mouth, with red berry flavors, a restrained sweetness, good acidity, and just slightly bitter and peppery tannins.

Pour this wine in a wine glass at room temperature, or slightly chilled in warm weather to make it more refreshing.  It works as both an aperitif and after-dinner drink. It does not need to be decanted, is ready to drink on release, and should be consumed within four to six weeks of opening. The ABV is: 20%.

www.cockburns.com

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Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Port

Graham's Six GrapesA Port to Seek

True Ports hail from the Douro valley in Northern Portugal, and have done so for over three hundred years. The region’s predominant soil is schist, composed of various medium-grained to coarse-grained metamorphic rocks with laminated, often flaky parallel layers of micaceous minerals.  The low annual rainfall makes this probably one of the driest regions of the world where grapes are grown without irrigation. This terroir results in very low-yielding vineyards, with vines bearing only a very few small bunches of full-flavored grapes whose thick skins protect them from dehydration.

William & John Graham founded their eponymous company in Porto in 1820.  The Symington family has owned Graham’s since 1970, although their association with the firm goes back as far as 1882.

In addition to Graham’s, Symington owns several brands of Port, Madeira, and Douro DOC wines, including some of the oldest and most well-known Port and Madeira brands. With their extensive vineyard holdings and many Port brands, the Symingtons are often described as ruling over a “Port empire”.

The Douro

THE GRAHAM’S QUINTAS

The estates or ‘quintas’ of the Douro with the lowest altitude produce some of the finest Ports of the region. Graham’s sources from five of these.

Graham’s headquarters in the Douro is at the Quinta dos Malvedos, originally purchased by the firm in 1890. Along with fruit from Graham’s neighboring Quinta do Tua, the entire production of Quinta dos Malvedos is made into Port  under the supervision of winemaker Henry Shotton.

Graham’s also makes wine from three other quintas, Quinta das Lages in the Rio Torto valley, Quinta da Vila Velha just downriver from Malvedos on the south bank, and Quinta do Vale de Malhadas in the Douro Superior.

WINEMAKING

Only about 35% of the produce from these five top-quality Douro estates is set aside to be potential Vintage Port, and only about 10% reaches the final Vintage Port bottling. Most of the remaining quantity goes into the Six Grapes blend. It is probably correctly described in style as ‘declassified Vintage Port,’ but it is officially designated as a Reserve Ruby.

Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Port

One of the traditional quirks of Port production is the physical separation of the vineyards and wineries from the ageing cellars Wines have to be transported in barrel some sixty miles downriver to the coast to begin their barrel ageing process in the cooler climate of the Atlantic seaboard. Originally, this journey was made in heavily-loaded flat-bottomed boats.

Rabelos, a type of boat traditionally used to transport barrels of port down the River Douro for storage and aging.

In order to identify the different grades of wine being transferred, the barrels would be marked with coded symbols describing the type of wine they contained. When the barrels were received in Porto, the symbol and quantity would be entered into large ledgers known as ‘lot books.’

The first records of the name Six Grapes being used as a wine brand date back to the first decade of the twentieth century.  Graham’s had been stamping their  barrels with a “six grapes” mark to identify them in transit.  It was the highest of six possible classifications depicted by the appropriate number of grape bunches . When many leading shippers began registering names for their own proprietary blends, Graham’s perhaps predictably chose ‘Six Grapes.’

Six Grapes is made of the four primary varietals of the Port region, the aromatic Touriga Franca, the rich, tannic, and well-structured Touriga Nacional, the raspberry-tinged Tinta Roriz, and the sweet, chocolatey Tinta Barroca. In addition, Tinta Amarela, Tinta Cão, Souzão, and Tinta Francisca are included in small quantities, as well as grapes from some older mixed plantings.Graham strives to pick each varietal according to its ideal ripeness. The fermentation of each varietal and vineyard block is kept separate for blending later, once the wines have been assessed for their individual characteristics.

After being shipped out of the Malvedos winery in the spring following the harvest, the wine travels to Graham’s cask lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia, immediately south across the Duoro from Porto, where it typically spends one or two years in seasoned wooden barrels or vats. This is a rather shorter period in wood than other Reserve Ruby Ports, with the intent being to preserve its youthful fruit character.

The final blend is created from two or three different harvests to get a consistent taste and style from one year to the next..  The wine is an average of five to six years old when it is lightly filtered and bottled.  Once in bottle, the wine is ready to drink, and does not require further ageing.

This fortified wine has a seductive, rich aroma of ripe plums, cherries, figs, and dark chocolate notes. On the palate it’s complex, with an excellent structure and a long, lingering finish. It is fruity, with good concentration.

Six Grapes pairs particularly well with dark chocolate or blue cheese, but is also delicious on its own as a luscious dessert in a glass.

sixgrapes.grahams-port.com

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Graham’s Quinta Dos Malvedos 2009 Vintage Porto

Graham’s Quinta Dos Malvedos 2009 Vintage PortoIn the Douro valley of Portugal, home of true Port wines, only the finest years are declared as Vintages, the best of the best. The last declared vintage was 2017.  (Remarkably, this followed the declared 2016.  Back to back declarations are qute rare.)

However, the grapes grow every year, of course, and the foremost houses still have a high-quality product to offer even in non-decalred years. This is usually released as a single quinta [Portugese literally for farm, but understood as vineyard or estate] bottling. These wines also receive a vintage designation, rather than being used for more anonymous blended ports.

Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos is just such a product, a ruby port expressing Graham’s finest efforts of 2009. This wine has seen two years in barrel, and although I’m sure it will age well, I suggest drinking it now. The wine is delightfully approachable, with none of the aggressive characteristics so often seen in a young Vintage Port.

The alcohol, tannins, and fruit are nicely balanced, with the palate displaying the classic port flavors of cassis and blackberries.

Enjoy this wine either as an aperitif or with dessert (blue cheese and walnuts are traditional, but chocolate mousse would be delicious as well). And, please forgo fussy liqueur glasses or port “pipes;” a white wine glass will do just fine.

https://www.grahams-port.com/wines/bottle-aged-ports/malvedos-vintage

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